Gretzky loses it

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Wayne Gretzky's return to the National Hockey League did not turn out to be as memorable as he would have liked.

The Vancouver Canucks spoiled Gretzky's coaching debut last night, defeating his Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in a game that generated lots of action and plenty of scoring chances.

But in the long run, the Canucks created more first-rate opportunities than the Coyotes and since they're a more powerful team, their triumph was virtually inevitable.

Curtis Joseph played a strong game in goal for the Coyotes, making excellent saves on Matt Cooke and Markus Naslund to allow the Coyotes to emerge unscathed from the first period.

But in the second, Mattias Ohlund beat Joseph with a screened shot from the point, then a Phoenix defensive lapse allowed Naslund to roar in alone.

Sure enough, Naslund, who many fans project as the NHL scoring leader this season, made a nifty move, faked Joseph down, then snapped the puck in.

The Coyotes had some chances of their own, but couldn't capitalize. Boyd Devereaux had a glorious opportunity at the side of the net but couldn't get the puck up high enough to beat Vancouver goalie Dan Cloutier.

A 120-foot pass to Peter Nedved -- who later left the game with a groin strain -- would have sent him in alone for a breakaway, but the puck bounced off his stick. Brett Hull was set up for a one-timer, but he flubbed the shot.

The Coyotes looked as if they might make a comeback when Keith Ballard, playing in his first NHL game calmly moved in alone on Gauthier and beat him with a beautiful rising shot midway through the third period.

But only 19 seconds later, the Coyotes got sloppy again, allowing Naslund to score his second of the game.

Phoenix made it interesting with a late goal by Oleg Saprykin, but it ran out of time.


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